The Word Made Fresh
1The Israelites moved their camp to the plains of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho.
2Balak, son of Zippor, saw what the Israelites had done to the Amorites, 3and the Moabites were terrified because there were so many Israelites. 4They said to the leaders of Midian, “This multitude will swallow up everything we have, like an ox chews up the grass in the field.”
Balak was king of Moab in those days, 5and he sent envoys to Balaam son of Beor at Pethor near the Euphrates River, Balaam’s native land. He sent this message: “A whole race of people have come out of Egypt and spread out and covered the land next to me. 6Please come and put a curse on them; they are much too numerous for us. If you help, I may be able to defeat them and drive them away from my country. I know that whomever you bless is blessed and whomever you curse is cursed.”
7The envoys of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for Balaam’s services as a seer. When they came to Balaam, they told him what services Balak was requesting. 8Balaam said to them, “Stay the night here, and tomorrow I will tell you whatever the LORD says.” So, they bedded down for the night.
9God appeared to Balaam and asked about the men who had come to him. 10“They are sent from Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab,” he said. “They tell me that 11a great crowd of people have come out of Egypt and settled in his land. He wants me to come and place a curse on them so that he will be able to force them out.”
12God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them. Do not curse those people; I have blessed them.”
13The next morning Balaam told the envoys from Balak, “Go back home. The LORD has refused to let me go with you.” 14So the envoys went back to Balak and told him of Balaam’s refusal.
15Balak sent a larger group of more important officials. 16They approached Balaam and gave him this message: “Balak son of Zippor begs you not to allow anything to prevent you from coming to his aid. 17He will reward you well and he will do whatever you say, only come and curse these people!”
18Balaam answered, “If Balak gave me a house full of gold and silver I still could not go against the LORD my God’s instructions. 19But stay the night like the others, and I will see what the LORD says.”
20That night God came to Balaam and said, “Go with these men who have come to you, but say only what I tell you to say.”
21Balaam arose the next morning, saddled his donkey and set out with the envoys from Moab. 22But God became angry at his going and sent an angel to stand in the road against him. Balaam was on his donkey, and two servants accompanied him. 23The donkey saw the LORD’s angel standing in the road, sword drawn, and left the road, turning into a field. Balaam struck the donkey, trying to get her back in the road. 24Then the angel stood in a narrow path between walls separating two vineyards. 25When the donkey saw the angel she pressed against the wall, scraping Balaam’s foot, and he struck her again.
26The angel moved ahead and took up a stance in a narrow passage where there was no room to turn in any direction. 27This time, when the donkey saw the angel, she lay down under Balaam, and in anger he began to beat her with his staff. 28Then the LORD opened the donkey’s mouth, and she said to Balaam, “Why have you beat me? Three times, now!” 29Balaam yelled, “You make me look like fool! If I had a sword I would kill you right now!”
30The donkey responded, “Haven’t I been your personal donkey you have been riding all this time; have I ever done this to you before?” Balaam answered, “No.”
31Then the LORD allowed Balaam to see the angel standing in the way, sword drawn. Balaam knelt on the ground and bowed face down. 32The angel of the LORD said, “Why have you beaten your donkey? Three times, now! Don’t you understand that I am in your way because your way is reckless? 33The donkey saw me each time, and tried to turn away. If she hadn’t, I would have killed you! But I would have let her live.”
34Then Balaam said to the angel, “It was my mistake. I didn’t realize you were in the way to block me. If you are not pleased with me, I will return home.”
35The angel said, “Go on with those men, but be careful to say only what I tell you to say.” So, Balaam went on with the envoys from Balak.
36When Balak was told that Balaam had come, he rushed to meet him at the Moabite town on the edge of his border at the Arnon river. 37He said to Balaam, “I sent you an urgent request! Why did you not come? Did you think I could not reward you well?”
38Balaam replied, “I’m here now, but don’t think I can say just anything. I can only say what God tells me to say.” 29Then he went with Balak to Kiriath Huzoth, 40where Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep. He gave some to Balaam and the men who had come with him. 41The next day he took Balaam up to Bamoth Baal, and from there they could see a portion of the people of Israel.
1-6: Israel is camped on the plains of Moab, and Balak the king of Moab is alarmed. He sends for a famous seer named Balaam from the region of the Euphrates River to come and curse the Israelites.
7-14: In the first round of the story God tells Balaam not to come, and Balaam refuses Balak’s invitation.
15-21: In the second round, however, God tells him to go with them.
22-30: But then in verse 22 we are told that God is angry and tries to kill Balaam. It seems as if two completely different traditions have been woven together here. Balaam’s donkey sees the angel with the sword, but Balaam does not.
31-35: After three encounters with the angel and three beatings from Balak, the donkey protests and Balaam finally sees the angel who then lets him pass, repeating God’s instructions that Balaam is to say only what God tells him to say regarding the Israelites.
36-40: When Balaam arrives in the Moabite camp Balak is perturbed that he has not responded more readily. After all, Balak is the king of Moab, by golly. They spar for a bit, and then get down to business. Balak makes sacrifices, to what deity we are not told.
41: Next day Balaam is taken to a knoll where he can see at least a portion of the Israelite camp.
Moses does not make an appearance in chapters 22, 23, or 24. This story about a foreign seer named Balaam shows that God is not confined to Israel’s camp, but is also active as far away as the Euphrates River where God intervenes in Balaam’s actions. The story of Balaam is an enigma. Not only will you see competing scenarios in the next three chapters, but other mentions of Balaam in the Bible seem to recall a different tale than the one told here (see, for example, Revelation 2:14). A later story has it that Balaam is killed in Israel’s battles with the Moabites (Joshua 13:22).
You should not be bothered by the talking donkey. They do that all the time. 😊